Broadcast Hysteria: Orson Welles's War of the Worlds and the Art of Fake News

Sold by Hill and Wang
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On the evening of October 30, 1938, radio listeners across the United States heard a startling report of a meteor strike in the New Jersey countryside. With sirens blaring in the background, announcers in the field described mysterious creatures, terrifying war machines, and thick clouds of poison gas moving toward New York City. As the invading force approached Manhattan, some listeners sat transfixed, while others ran to alert neighbors or to call the police. Some even fled their homes. But the hair-raising broadcast was not a real news bulletin-it was Orson Welles's adaptation of the H. G. Wells classic The War of the Worlds.
In Broadcast Hysteria, A. Brad Schwartz boldly retells the story of Welles's famed radio play and its impact. Did it really spawn a "wave of mass hysteria," as The New York Times reported? Schwartz is the first to examine the hundreds of letters sent to Orson Welles himself in the days after the broadcast, and his findings challenge the conventional wisdom. Few listeners believed an actual attack was under way. But even so, Schwartz shows that Welles's broadcast became a major scandal, prompting a different kind of mass panic as Americans debated the bewitching power of the radio and the country's vulnerability in a time of crisis. When the debate was over, American broadcasting had changed for good, but not for the better.
As Schwartz tells this story, we observe how an atmosphere of natural disaster and impending war permitted broadcasters to create shared live national experiences for the first time. We follow Orson Welles's rise to fame and watch his manic energy and artistic genius at work in the play's hurried yet innovative production. And we trace the present-day popularity of "fake news" back to its source in Welles's show and its many imitators. Schwartz's original research, gifted storytelling, and thoughtful analysis make Broadcast Hysteria a groundbreaking new look at a crucial but little-understood episode in American history.
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About the author

A. Brad Schwartz co-wrote an episode of the award-winning PBS series American Experience on the War of the Worlds broadcast, based in part on research for his senior thesis at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. He lives in Ann Arbor.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Hill and Wang
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Published on
May 5, 2015
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Pages
352
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ISBN
9780809031634
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Language
English
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Genres
History / United States / 20th Century
Performing Arts / Radio / History & Criticism
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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At last, the definitive history of Al Capone, Eliot Ness's Untouchables, and gangster-era Chicago – a landmark magnum opus on America's great crime epic that reads like a novel

"REVOLUTIONIZES OUR UNDERSTANDING OF AL CAPONE AND ELIOT NESS." — Matthew Pearl • "GRIPPING. READS LIKE A NOVEL." — Chicago magazine • "AN EXTRAORDINARY ACHIEVEMENT." — Sara Paretsky

In 1929, thirty-year-old gangster Al Capone ruled both Chicago's underworld and its corrupt government. To a public who scorned Prohibition, "Scarface" became a local hero and national celebrity. But after the brutal St. Valentine's Day Massacre transformed Capone into "Public Enemy Number One," the federal government found an unlikely new hero in a twenty-seven-year-old Prohibition agent named Eliot Ness. Chosen to head the legendary law enforcement team known as "The Untouchables," Ness set his sights on crippling Capone's criminal empire.

Today, no underworld figure is more iconic than Al Capone and no lawman as renowned as Eliot Ness. Yet in 2016 the Chicago Tribune wrote, "Al Capone still awaits the biographer who can fully untangle, and balance, the complexities of his life," while revisionist historians have continued to misrepresent Ness and his remarkable career.

Enter Max Allan Collins and A. Brad Schwartz, a unique and vibrant writing team combining the narrative skill of a master novelist with the scholarly rigor of a trained historian. Collins is the New York Times bestselling author of the gangster classic Road to Perdition. Schwartz is a rising-star historian whose work anticipated the fake-news phenomenon.

Scarface and the Untouchable draws upon decades of primary source research—including the personal papers of Ness and his associates, newly released federal files, and long-forgotten crime magazines containing interviews with the gangsters and G-men themselves. Collins and Schwartz have recaptured a bygone bullet-ridden era while uncovering the previously unrevealed truth behind Scarface's downfall. Together they have crafted the definitive work on Capone, Ness, and the battle for Chicago.

“A remarkable, eye-opening biography . . . McGilligan’s Orson is a Welles for a new generation, [a portrait] in tune with Patti Smith’s Just Kids.”—A. S. Hamrah, Bookforum

No American artist or entertainer has enjoyed a more dramatic rise than Orson Welles. At the age of sixteen, he charmed his way into a precocious acting debut in Dublin’s Gate Theatre. By nineteen, he had published a book on Shakespeare and toured the United States. At twenty, he directed a landmark all-black production of Macbeth in Harlem, and the following year masterminded the legendary WPA production of Marc Blitzstein’s agitprop musical The Cradle Will Rock. After founding the Mercury Theatre, he mounted a radio production of The War of the Worlds that made headlines internationally. Then, at twenty-four, Welles signed a Hollywood contract granting him unprecedented freedom as a writer, director, producer, and star—paving the way for the creation of Citizen Kane, considered by many to be the greatest film in history.

Drawing on years of deep research, acclaimed biographer Patrick McGilligan conjures the young man’s Wisconsin background with Dickensian richness and detail: his childhood as the second son of a troubled industrialist father and a musically gifted, politically active mother; his youthful immersion in theater, opera, and magic in nearby Chicago; his teenage sojourns through rural Ireland, Spain, and the Far East; and his emergence as a maverick theater artist. Sifting fact from legend, McGilligan unearths long-buried writings from Welles’s school years; delves into his relationships with mentors Dr. Maurice Bernstein, Roger Hill, and Thornton Wilder; explores his partnerships with producer John Houseman and actor Joseph Cotten; reveals the truth of his marriage to actress Virginia Nicolson and rumored affairs with actresses Dolores Del Rio and Geraldine Fitzgerald (including a suspect paternity claim); and traces the story of his troubled brother, Dick Welles, whose mysterious decline ran counter to Orson’s swift ascent. And, through it all, we watch in awe as this whirlwind of talent—hailed hopefully from boyhood as a “genius”—collects the raw material that he and his co-writer, the cantankerous Herman J. Mankiewicz, would mold into the story of Charles Foster Kane.

Filled with insight and revelation—including the surprising true origin and meaning of “Rosebud”—Young Orson is an eye-opening look at the arrival of a talent both monumental and misunderstood.

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